Tennis fans are no doubt all a dither over the Aircel Chennai Open being held between 4th and the 10th of January at the SDAT Tennis Stadium. It is currently part of the ATP World Tour and over the years has attracted some of the biggest names in the game including Rafa Nadal, Carlos Moya and Stan Wawrinka. Here’s our Eat, See & Do for visiting Chennai which will make sure you make the most of this eclectic and most cultured of Indian cities.
While I absolutely hate the cliché that heading South is like going to a different country in itself, you can expect to be dazzled by a smorgasbord of flavors, the ability to get a good cup of coffee anywhere for less than Rs 20 (don’t even bother entering that Starbucks) and the constant riot of all colors of the peacock. Our top five picks for Chennai start with the legendary Saravanaa Bhavan, which can be found in over 18 locations. Begin with a nice fried vada smothered in sambhar followed by a Ghee Roast and a strong filter coffee. If you’re raising your eyebrows at being recommended a chain and want a more authentic experience, head to Mami Tiffin Shop next to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Pitchupillai Street. Want to get away from it all? Amethyst, considered an institution in Chennai, is a gorgeous villa tucked away on Whites Road in Royapetta and the perfect afternoon retreat or leisurely breakfast. Menu comprises usual favorites like Crumb Fried Fish and gourmet small bites like Chili Cheese toast on Focaccia. Then saunter around the villa exploring the best in eclectic luxury shopping. I remember spending hours reading on the swing at the back. If you’re more chicken curry than sambhar, why not combine the two and have a crisp dosa with a fiery chettinad curry. Karaikudi is another Chennai favorite, unfiltered and without the hype. For a more gentrified experience, go to renowned Southern Spice at the Taj.
Even if you’re not religious, you can’t leave without a visit to Mylapore to pay homage to the Kapaleeswarar Temple, one of the oldest in the city built in 7th century AD by the Pallavas. The same goes for St. Mary’s church, the oldest Anglican Church in Asia built in 1680. Your timing is also perfect because you’re right bang in the middle of the December Kutcheri Season. So wrap yourself in your best silks and head to Music Academy or the Mylapore fine arts club to sample the best Carnatic Music in the world. Details available here.
Nothing beats walking for a truly immersive experience, and Storytrails India offers you a multitude of options. Yes, it’s a little commercial and built around the international tourist but it’s also a great way to explore the ‘Madras’ in Chennai especially if you’re not familiar with the language. Love markets? Then try their Bazaar Trail. British Blueprints and Steeple Chase would be my picks as it’s a great way to explore Chennai’s wonderful history. We would usually recommend Marina Beach but a recent ocean mutiny has turned the longest beach in India into a garbage dump, so please check on whether it’s been cleaned before you go. One last thing; don’t leave without visiting Nalli Chinnasami Chetty, the Nalli flagship store at Pangal Park. Yes, you have Nallis all over the country but this one is where you get the real stuff. Ask to be taken to the back where you can feel what true zari is like. Caveat Emptor. Prices begin upwards of Rs. 80,000.
Reshma’s favorite Saravanaa Bhavan is on Mount Road. Make sure you pour the sambhar over the Vadai yourself lest it get too soggy. Heaven in every bite.